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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Not This Time
by Donald Levit

Nominated for two 2003 Independent Spirit Awards, Charlotte Sometimes is another low-budgeter that, despite earlier very brief theatrical release, bears that straight-to-VHS/DVD look. Actors swapped and drove each other's cars in the film, which has only four actors and not even enough real-life barflies to crowd up a lounge scene. The movie takes place mostly in a single apartment set otherwise.

An 1846 shill for his already popular "The Raven," Edgar Allan Poe's "The Philosophy of Composition" is a defense of the poet's own theory and practice, with insistence on the "single sitting" so that "the affairs of the world [not] intervene, and everything like totality [be] at once destroyed." Analogously, no matter how outsized, the home screen does not substitute for the darkened theater experience, which at its magic best evokes epiphany. It's not merely that the viewer is unavoidably aware of existence outside the twenty-four diagonal inches -- those details and "affairs of the world" -- but that there can be no full suspension of disbelief, no forgetful loss of the individual oneself. More comfortable, and cheaper, but not a movie. Spectacular action and special effects are dwarfed -- and, of greater importance, the viewer becomes increasingly removed and therefore skeptical.

This directorial and scriptwriting début for Eric Byler, is a case in point. Though one high-profile critic has gushed that Charlotte Sometimes is "uncannily realistic, fascinating, illuminating" and  that it "captures, totally absorbs you," when viewing it on DVD/VHS (on what is after all a television screen) life is not made larger than itself but, rather, much smaller, diminished and unabsorbing. What we have here are not the incisive cameos of a Jane Austen (the novels, not the films), but life and characters so low-keyed they would not survive on any size screen, especially burdened by the poor sound quality that marks many a cash-strapped indie.

This said, the fault may lie in the realization of what is admittedly not a bad basic premise, and in the characters themselves, who are taciturn in the extreme (mirroring the starkly red- or green-lit apartments and separating narrow stairwell) and who out-mumble the Method when they do indeed move their mouths. The director can speak of "sub-textual gestures and intuition" all he likes, but unintelligible is unintelligible.

Close-cropped Michael (Michael Idemoto) is vaguely Japanese-American, honors his traditional aunt, runs an auto-repair shop the rest of the family didn't want, supposedly reads a lot, and suffers the noisy lovemaking of his tenant Lori (Eugenia Yuan) and her roommate of ten months, Justin (an un-Asian looking Matt Westmore). Impossible to figure out, but Michael may love/lust after Lori, who in turn, it may be -- the film is no help -- somehow arranges for him to pick up, or be picked up by, mysterious writer/drifter Darcy (Jacqueline Kim).

It turns out there is a tie between these two Chinese-American women, though beyond a couple of veiled words now and again, and a never clearly seen or identified photograph (of the two as children?) that Michael knows enough to go directly to, the relationship is never explained.

People drive or walk from one place to another or sit silently together or solo; Darcy comes and goes and straddles what is for no reason introduced as a dangerous rooftop ledge; and love and couples unsurprisingly shift and grow complex, although motivation does not emerge. It appears the mysterious newcomer has monkey wrenched Lori's love life in the past, but how-why-when remains hidden, as does the former's whispered-in-an-ear real name, which -- another deep hint -- has some apparent significance.

Life may be like this, as there are so many facts, half-facts and opinions an outsider -- a viewer -- never learns or suspects, that the conception behind this film could have truly mirrored. But this is art and not life, and since art involves a selection designed to provide meaning or a minimal impression of recognizable understanding, Charlotte Sometimes elicits no more than restlessness. Even the title escapes: is it the pregnant whispered name, or what? Frankly, my dear . . . 

(Released by Visionbox Pictures; not rated by MPAA.)

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